Have Fantasy Premier League (FPL) managers got a bargain on their hands with Djed Spence (£4.5m)?
Tottenham Hotspur’s sixth summer signing has joined permanently from Middlesbrough for an initial £12.5m, following a fantastic year on loan at Nottingham Forest that ended with promotion.
We assess the 21-year-old right-sided defender in our latest Scout Report.
Having previously spent time at Fulham’s academy, Spence arrived at Middlesbrough in 2018 aged 17.
|Season||Team||Division||Starts (Sub on)||Goals||Assists|
|2021/22||Nottingham Forest||Championship||41 (1)||2||4|
It wasn’t until Jonathan Woodgate became manager that Spence was integrated into first-term action, making his league debut halfway through the 2019/20 season and immediately landed the EFL Young Player of the Month award.
Once Neil Warnock arrived to help Boro avoid relegation and stayed on for the 2020/21 campaign Spence’s game time began to suffer.
Warnock’s initial 3-5-2 wing-back system started to become a four-man defence. That, combined with the January arrival of Darnell Fisher, restricted Spence’s appearances. Between February and May 2021, he started only seven of their 19 matches, being unused a further seven times.
Therefore, when Isaiah Jones burst onto the scene at the start of last season, Warnock suddenly had two excellent young talents fighting over the same position. Having previously doubted Spence’s attitude by saying he’ll either end up at the very top or at non-league, Warnock loaned Spence to Nottingham Forest.
“For me, I’d say I try to bring excitement, skill and speed when I play… I just want to excite the fans and to play well. I think that’s the most important thing – when you excite your team and your fans and play well, it breeds confidence, and confidence is one of the biggest things in football.” – Djed Spence
Things greatly improved under Steve Cooper, the head coach that had previously won the Under-17s World Cup with England. He knows how to develop young talent and clearly saw potential in Spence.
At the City Ground, Spence started every game barring the two against parent club Middlesbrough and one on the final day of the season. Although a stand-out player during Forest’s surge up the Championship, it was the three FA Cup games versus Premier League opposition that introduced Spence to a wider audience – highlighted by a wonderful goal against Leicester City.
His attacking stats were actually quite underwhelming last season, scoring just twice in the league and assisting on four occasions.
With an expected goals (xG) tally of 1.7, the right wing-back ended on 24 shots (one every 153 minutes) and 43 chances created (CC, one every 85.6 minutes). They’re hardly compelling figures, when we look at what Spurs’ existing wing-back options were serving up in 2021/22:
Alongside this is three caps for England’s Under-21s.
Averaging 0.5 crosses per game didn’t rank Spence highly among Championship defenders but his dribbling did. By contributing 1.8 successful dribbles per game, he placed at joint seventh, where only Ethan Laird had a better rate from defence.
And that’s part of the main package that Spence offers Spurs. He combines some very good dribbling and ball carrying with brilliant acceleration.
However, he is far from the complete package and needs to improve his first touch, decision-making and defensive positioning. If that became clear in the second tier, how quickly he can adapt to the top-flight is now the big question.
WHERE SPENCE FITS IN AT TOTTENHAM
This feeling of Spence being more of a developmental signing is backed up by Conte’s comments on the deal. Although perhaps taken out of context by the press, trying to twist it as a dig at his higher-ups, the Italian is essentially just saying that Spence is a player of potential.
“Spence is an investment of the club. The club wanted to do it. I said okay, this player is young but he showed he can become a good, important player for us. The club decided to buy him.” – Antonio Conte
Therefore don’t expect him to be a viable FPL asset for a while. As of now, Spurs have a staggering six wing-backs, with Spence, Emerson Royal (£5.0m) and Matt Doherty (£5.0m) on the right alongside Ivan Perisic (£5.5m), Sergio Reguilon (£4.5m) and Ryan Sessegnon (£4.5m) on the left.
With Reguilon and Emerson Royal expected to be sold, FPL managers may be tempted to begin the season with Doherty. The Irishman bagged 55 points from the six games that preceded his season-ending knee injury and could return to action while Spence has a bedding-in period.
IS SPENCE WORTH BUYING IN FPL?
A further complication came from recent Conte comments on midfielder Lucas Moura (£6.0m).
“I spoke with Lucas and I think that this will be a good option for me and in the past I converted Perisic in that position. [Victor] Moses was the same. [Antonio] Candreva was the same. Before a winger and then to become a wing-back. For sure he has great quality Lucas and I think this could be a good option. He can play behind the striker, on the right, on the left, as a wing-back.” – Antonio Conte on potentially using Lucas Moura at wing-back
So that’s potentially seven wing-back options for Spurs. If they struggle to offload a couple by Gameweek 1 and Perisic continues to have a light pre-season, FPL managers may reluctantly avoid their defensive assets for Southampton (H) – particularly with Conte’s track record for substituting on and off his wing-backs.
It would be a shame because the great run of early fixtures also offers strong clean sheet potential against Wolverhampton Wanderers (H), Nottingham Forest (a) and Fulham (H).
With Spence evidently being a signing for the future, it’s a ‘don’t buy just yet’ situation. Should he eventually establish himself as the starting right wing-back in a side that is very capable of recording shut-outs, however, he will make a mockery of his initial £4.5m price tag.